So, you did your research by looking up your property on FEMA’s website and found you are in a Coastal AE Zone. Now what? Let’s dive in to see what impacts the AE and AE Coastal jurisdiction has on your building and renovating techniques.
DEFINING AE / AE COASTAL FLOOD ZONES
First, let’s understand what AE-Zones are as a whole. When you see an A in front of your FEMA zone it means there is a 1% chance each year of severe flooding and, therefore, are deemed ‘high risk’ areas by FEMA (Federal Emergency Management Agency) and NFIP (National Flood Insurance Program).
The designation between AE and AE Coastal are directly related to wave action (waves crashing into your house). In an AE-Zone, the wave action is expected to be less than 1.5 feet high. In an AE Coastal Zone, waves are expected to be larger, about 1.5 – 3 feet high.
This project in Old Lyme “before” in an AE-Zone ^^
^^ The same project in Old Lyme “after” lifted out of the flood zones. You’ll notice more steps up into the house.
HOW DOES THIS EFFECT HOW I BUILD OR RENOVATE?
Building and renovating in an A-zone requires acute attention to detail and special construction means and methods. Your building foundation must become passive, allowing water to flow in and out of it easily. This is achieved through flood vents; small vents placed within your foundation walls that let water in, float through, and back out. This is to help relieve the pressure of the water pushing against your house.
Building new and renovating have their own challenges while in an A-zone, and it’s important to understand the nuances. Building new is more straightforward; rules are established and it is our job, as architects, to design buildings that comply with these restrictions.
Renovations can be a bit more confusing and complicated. Altering an existing building that lies within a flood zone and does not comply with the flood regulations has you walking a fine line.
THE 50% RULE
The 50% rule applies to only renovations in the flood zone. It is best described as: taking the value of your existing structure (not property as a whole) and using 50% of that value as your construction budget. When renovating in a flood zone, if the limit to your renovations cost less than 50% of the structures value, you are not required to meet FEMA regulations. However, if the cost of construction exceeds 50%, you are required to bring the entire building up to FEMA regulations.
For example, a property is valued at 500,000 dollars. The accessor deems the value of the structure to be 200,000 dollars, and the land to be 300,000 dollars ($200,000 + $300,000 = $500,000 property value). The 50% rule tells us that our construction budget is 50% of the 200,000 dollar structure value, or 100,000 dollars, if we do not wish to bring the entire building up to meet FEMA’s regulations. If the construction budget for renovation exceeds 100,000 dollars, the entire structure will need to comply with FEMA.
THE LOOK BACK PERIOD
If you thought the 50% Rule alone was complicated, there’s more! Each town has a “look back” period. (Ask what it is! Do not assume to know without verifying with local officials). Let’s say you just closed on a house, and the look back period in your town is 10 years. The seller of the house just re-roofed the building 2 years ago for 20,000 dollars. Your $100,000 renovation budget just went down to $80,000 ($100,000 50% budget – $20,000 in renovation = $80,000 remaining)! The 10 year look back designates a time period in which all renovations, maintenance or even repair work (!) count towards your 50% rule.
THE BASEMENT DILEMMIA
And then there is the basement dilemmia. I’m sure you’re still wondering what I mean by allowing water to flow in and out of your house! In an A-Zone, basements, or any other finished spaces below the BFE (base flood elevation), are not permitted. This means nothing! No sheetrock, bathrooms, or even mechanical equipment can be located below the BFE. The space beneath your finished floor must contain flood vents and serve the purpose to allow water in and out.
As always, we recommend hiring and working with local professionals. Knowledgeable people in this field are able to help you better understand all the options you have, even before you purchase a property!
Have an immediate challenge and could use some consulting? Give us a call!